A couple of Ph.D. level dissertation topics inspired by the movie ‘Belly’ 

OPINION: ‘Belly’ is not only a film but a gift that keeps on giving in that there is so much you can discuss about it without ever coming to a resolution or reasonable conclusion.

“Belly.” (Screenshot/YouTube)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

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I love the movie Belly. So much of it is bad that it actually ends up being absolutely amazing and entirely deserving of its cult-movie status. I’m watching it right now in complete awe at how much I still enjoy this movie, and I’ve seen it probably 100-plus times since it dropped in November 1998. One of the things I love most about it is the sheer number of questions and topics that arise purely from watching it. 

Do y’all remember a few years ago when Black Twitter went ham creating the most amazing faux-dissertation topics, spawned by Twitter user @neauxna (it seems like her Twitter account no longer exists) asking the question: What would your Real *CENSORED* dissertation be? I won’t jack anybody’s genius intellectual property for example purposes, but Black genius never disappoints. 

Watching Belly, starring Nas, DMX (RIP), Taral Hicks and T-Boz (among others), made me think of a ton of potential, legitimate dissertation level (in my heart, at least) topics of discussion. At the very least, they’d make for amazing 700-word essays, which in my heart is a dissertation…for the soul. If it’s OK, I’d like to share some of them with you. To quote Darius Lovehall at the end of his “Brother to the Night (A Blues for Nina)” poem in Love Jones, “is that alright?”

Because this movie is so rich with “hmmm….” moments, I’ll share some of the ideas that I have with the understanding that this only represents a handful. 

Achieving the Impossible: An essentialistic exploration of how nobody in ‘Belly’ can act but everything seems to work

Belly was the first film that truly proved to me that failure was an option. There are so many bad acting jobs in this movie. In fact, the best acting job in the movie seems to come from the kid on the bench in the projects talking to Nas about survival. And I think that’s mostly because I don’t entirely believe that wasn’t the part of the film that accidentally became a documentary. Nobody is good at acting in this movie. When Keith Sweat sang “Nobody,” he was talking about who did a good job in this film. DMX was literally DMX. In fact, everybody seemed to be themselves. Maybe there was no script. Point is, an examination of squeezing blood from a turnip would be amazeballs.

Just How Far is Africa? A geo-political examination of the time and spatial differences when utilizing kinetic transition from a specified country to an undetermined location on a continent by plane, train or automobile

When T-Boz was hesitant about moving to Africa (location not specific) because it’s far, I chuckled. Mostly because it is (depending on where you go, I suppose), but also because I felt like she meant it more like how long it would take to get there walking or hiking as opposed to its actual location. This coming from the person who earlier in the movie just wanted to start an undetermined business. I feel like T-Boz and Nas were part of LLC Twitter before it was a thing, by the way.

DMX in “Belly.” (Artisan Entertainment)

What is ‘Belly’?: Breaking down the elements of the Hype Williams-directed vehicle to determine if he made a mediocre movie or a great music video

True story, this is the most recurring debate I’ve had with people regarding Belly. I truly think if you watch this as a REALLY long music video, it levels up the experience. The music used is so essential to the film that it’s basically the inspiration for the visual experience that is Beyoncé’s Lemonade even if nobody will acknowledge it.

Is Religion The Only Way Out?: A correlational contextualization of the ways in which religion has been used to rest life even in the face of the ultimate despair

In the movie, Tommy (DMX) is supposed to take out the leader of the Nation of Islam in order to weaken the nation’s ability to strengthen the Black community but instead undergoes an actual spiritual and religious transformation, which is something we’ve seen time and time again. An examination of the entirety of the world’s use of religion to find a way out seems apropos. Also, this would be the biggest book of all time; I’m guessing at least 7 million pages.

The Rise of the M-E-T-H-O-D Man: A timeline of the revelation of Method Man, from Wu-Tang Clan standout to sex symbol and multifaceted talent and mainstream darling

I mean, come on. The option is right there. Somebody needs to do this just so we can pinpoint exactly when he became the guy we all see in front of us today. 

Jewelry in Jail: An investigation into just how Knowledge was locked up in prison still wearing a Rolex and gold jewelry and what it says about the prison industrial complex

I feel like in Belly, having Knowledge blinged out in jail, knowing he was never coming home was a choice, but I mean, in all movies where the bad guys are demonstrating their power inside, they live a life different than the rest of the prisoners. Goodfellas is another movie that specifically highlights this. There’s a doctoral dissertation waiting to happen here.

Could Keisha’s Life Get Any Worse?: A discourse on knowingly dating drug dealers and just how bad it can get, just short of death

Needs no explanation. I just wanted to put this out there.


Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).

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